CLEVELAND: If Trevor Bauer were a left-handed pitcher, it would all make more sense. Lefties are long known in baseball for their eccentric ways, especially working their craft from the mound.
Bauer, a right-hander, doesn’t fit the mold.
Maybe that is why it’s a little harder to understand and to accept some of his rituals, such as playing long toss from nearly foul pole to foul pole before each start.
Success will be the best way to turn focus from his unconventional techniques to his potential.
Bauer took strides in that direction with his effort Monday in the Indians’ 7-0 loss to the New York Yankees in the second game of a doubleheader.
He limited his walks to two, struck out four and was responsible for just two earned runs in a career-long 6⅓ innings.
His first two starts weren’t as good. He issued 13 walks in 10 innings. But in those outings, the 6-foot-1, 190-pounds Bauer proved to be a master at bearing down and getting out of most jams, allowing only three runs despite all the traffic on the bases.
He is 1-2 with a 2.76 ERA in the majors this season.
“You know what, he keeps ’em off the scoreboard,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I thought he threw his fastball more and more effectively than we’ve seen in the past. … I’ll tell you what, there’s so much to like about him and he’s still developing. But even in the midst of that, coming up like he does isn’t the easiest thing to do. And yet he gives us a chance to win every time he pitches.”
Bauer understands reining in his fastball will be the key to long-term success.
“I’ve been working on it,” Bauer, 22, said. “My mechanics are solidifying, so I feel I’m able to repeat them — that’s a big thing. There’s also some stuff I’ve been doing mentally, some visualization, that’s been helping as well.”
The Indians are doing their part for now by accommodating Bauer and his nontraditional warm-up ritual and the approach he takes with his side work between starts.
The give and take has helped the two sides become more open to meeting in the middle on other aspects of his game.
“He has such good stuff,” Indians farm director Ross Atkins said. “But for him to be exceptional and become one of the elite pitchers in the major leagues, he’s going to have to walk less hitters. To do that, he’s going to have to be more efficient with all of his pitches, work on that fastball command and attack the strike zone early in counts.”
Part of the process during his time at Triple-A Columbus is for Bauer to throw fastballs even if he would have preferred an off-speed pitch.
“It’s really tough to compete at any level you’re at and purposely work on something that you’re not comfortable doing,” Bauer said.
His numbers have been solid — 1-0 with a 2.55 ERA in four starts with the Clippers, including 10 walks and 31 strikeouts in 24⅔ innings.
One of his outings showed the work that remains. On May 7, Bauer hit four batters, walked four more and threw a wild pitch in a no-decision.
“I’ve been talking to the organization a lot and we’ve come to some agreements on how we’re going to approach it and what not,” he said. “I think we have a good plan moving forward.
“I’m comfortable throwing more fastballs, when I can throw them for strikes. And that’s been the biggest issue. I’ve lacked command of the pitch. But honestly, I’ve lacked command of all my pitches; that’s had a lot to do with my mechanics being inconsistent. If I can’t repeat it, it’s hard to have command.”
After discussions with Francona, Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway and Clippers pitching coach Tony Arnold, the group came to the conclusion that the issue isn’t necessarily the amount of fastballs Bauer throws, but simply the amount of fastballs he throws for strikes.
“When he attacks the strike zone with his stuff, regardless of what pitch it is, he’s going to be successful,” Francona said. “I think some of it is confidence. I think it’s more of a mentality as he matures of just attacking the zone. We talked to him the last time he was here about that and it looked to me like [Monday] he tried to do that.”
Bauer was selected by the Arizona Diamondback with the third overall pick in the 2011 draft. But his quirky, often stubborn and outspoken personality rubbed his Diamondbacks teammates, and ultimately management, the wrong way.
That’s why the Indians were able to land such a talent in December in a three-team, nine-player trade that sent right fielder Shin-Soo Choo to the Cincinnati Reds and left-handed reliever Tony Sipp to Diamondbacks.
“I might be the high guy on him,” Francona said. “I just think [Bauer] is going to be what we’re looking for. He just has to develop and sometimes that takes a while to do.”
Bauer conceded that the Diamondbacks essentially wanted him to work on the same things that the Indians have discussed, with one difference.
“The way it’s being handled now is new to me, where it’s kind of an open-ended discussion,” he said. “Now it’s like, ‘Hey, we want you to do this, but what do you think? What do you like to do? How are we going to find some middle ground?’ It’s really nice having someone come to me and ask me what I do and then look to find some middle ground.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/sports.abj.